A forewarning – these are loosely connected thoughts…
At the Sacred Music Colloquium, I chose to be in the the polyphonic choir directed by Dr. William Mahrt. While I would like to say that the decision was reached with the knowledge of which music I wanted to sing, and the understanding that he was a brilliant director, it was based mostly on the thoughts that our main performance wasn’t until Friday and that music for Vespers had to be easier to sing than the ordinary of the mass written by Victoria, Morales or Monteverdi. Basically, it was a gut decision based on fear, although with a true desire to learn more about singing the divine office.
For those who have never been to the Sacred Music Colloquium, attendees get to choose a Gregorian Chant choir (or schola) to be in, and a polyphonic choir. The former is based on your experience with chant, so I chose the fundamentals of chant, or the beginning level. For polyphony, you basically choose which main performance you want to sing (one of the polyphonic masses, or the Vesper service). As I mentioned before, I’ve never really sung sacred polyphony before, and have never really sung in a choir since the sixth grade. I’m what you call a musical enthusiast; I’ve had much more training on instruments than on voice.
But as is want to happen when the Holy Spirit is involved, my hurried choice ended up a blessing. Dr. Mahrt is a kind, gentle soul whose love and passion for the liturgy and sacred music shine forth even as he would walk down the halls of the Mundelein Center, where we rehearsed. From the permanent smile etched on his countenance, you could tell he was, as the Colloquium advertised, in musical heaven. But he is a brilliant mind as well, and while we rehearsed, he not only assisted us in our singing, but stopped at various points to explain the finer points of how the words and music we sang fit precisely to the form and function of the various points in the liturgy. For an example, I recommend seeing his article on “Bontà delle forme”, or how the form of the various chants of the mass suit the liturgical function, and yet also express uniformity.
So it was my pleasure and to my spiritual benefit to sing in his group. I also met some wonderful fellow tenors in my group, or should I say baritones attempting to be tenors. We sang with full heart and voice (any Fr. Rocca fans out there?) for Vespers of the Holy Cross from the old breviary. I also saw this as providential, since I am a product of a Congregation of the Holy Cross education. O Crux ave, spes unica! You can check out sound files here.
So how am I connecting this to SS. Peter and Paul? Well, you may have noticed a successor of Peter, and that of Andrew, celebrating Vespers together yesterday (First Vespers for the Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul). The Divine Office is a beautiful treasure of the Church, and I urge everyone out there to be familiar with it, learn how to say it, but also how to sing/chant it! We are entering the Pauline year, so there’s no better time to start.